3D printing

This is Dope: Day(s) of Archaeology in the Virtual Curation Laboratory

by Bernard K. Means, Director, Virtual Curation Laboratory

Today might be the “official” Day of Archaeology, but when you have an active summer of research, Days of Archaeology would be more appropriate. In fact, the Virtual Curation Laboratory joined with numerous other cultural heritage preservation organizations in the Washington, D.C. area to celebrate the 2016 Day of Archaeology on July 16. With a suitcase full of hundreds of 3D printed replicas—much lighter and generally less fragile than real artifacts—I made my way the morning of July 16 via rail and metro to the Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C. on July 16 for Archaeology in the Community’s Day of Archaeology festival. The advantages of 3D printed artifact replicas are also disadvantages, as well. Because I could bring hundreds of artifact replicas I did, and because they can be handled more roughly than most real artifacts, replicas from all time periods and geographic locations were jostling against each other in my little orange suit case.  This meant I needed more setup time, especially if I wanted to arrange items thematically, temporally, or geographically.  This also meant that the one table I had available for my use was insufficient for all the replicas I had brought with me.  Still, the table of replicas definitely caught the attention of over two hundred visitors, one of whom proclaimed positively “This is dope,” e.g. cool.

A young attendee at the Day of Archaeology festival examines 3D printed replicas (Image courtesy of Archaeology in the Community)

A young attendee at the Day of Archaeology festival examines 3D printed replicas (Image courtesy of Archaeology in the Community)

The actual Day of Archaeology, July 29, coincides with the end of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) field school that I oversaw. This year, nine intrepid individuals braved the heat, humidity, and unyielding clay soils of Virginia just a half hour west of Fredericksburg, Virginia: six undergraduate VCU students, two recent VCU graduates, and one new University of Mary Washington undergraduate. This year, the Anthropology program at VCU was partnering with Germanna Archaeology, with Dr. Eric Larsen as the Field Director, and Amelia Chisholm as the Assistant Field Director.

Field school selfie, taken on the last day of fieldwork at Germanna.

Field school selfie, taken on the last day of fieldwork at Germanna.

One of the four interns working with Germanna Archaeology this summer was recent VCU alumnae Zoë Rahsman, who also worked in the Virtual Curation Laboratory as the laboratory manager this past spring. I am sad to see the field school end, and we were not successful in finding definitive traces of the 1714 fort for which we were looking, but the students certainly learned how to conduct a field archaeology project under great instruction, especially from Eric and Amelia, and we hope that our partnership can continue for the summer of 2017.

Waiting for the tour to begin of the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

Waiting for the tour to begin of the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

This last day of field school we were actually on a field trip. I think the students appreciated the break from working in the record-breaking heat we’ve seen over the past week or so. Our field trip was to the White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis lived while in Richmond, Virginia, and presiding over armed rebellion against the U.S. government.  This is not an archaeology place, per se, unlike our other field trips during the field season to Colonial Williamsburg, George Washington’s Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, James Madison’s Montpelier, and Jamestown Rediscovery. However, this place, like the others we visited, focuses on interpreting the past—I want my students to understand that, as archaeologists, they need to be able to tell stories about the past, engage people with the material aspects of cultural heritage, and thing about what is said—and not said—about those who came before us.

Before and after this field trip, I spent the Day of Archaeology 3D printing replicas to add to our collections that I use for teaching, outreach, and research.  Today, the printed replicas included wig hair curlers from George Washington’s Ferry Farm (3D scanned during our field trip there), a groundstone celt from George Washington’s Mount Vernon (also 3D scanned during our field trip there), a beaver femur from the Virginia Museum of Natural History (3D scanned in the summer of 2015), and a small vessel from H.N.B. Garhwal University’s Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography (3D scanned in Sringagar (Garhwal), Uttarakhand, India, in May 2016).

Summer intern and VCU anthropology major Charlie Parker was in during the day to paint the 3D printed replicas to emulate the original artifacts or ecofacts.

Charlie Parker does plastic surgery on a beaver femur

Charlie Parker does plastic surgery on a beaver femur

And, I finished the day preparing for a 3D scanning trip to the Western Science Center in Hemet, California, next week and a different 3D scanning trip to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the week after. This will end a summer of 3D scanning that began with a trip to north India.

3D scanning a figurine at H.N.B. Garhwal University

3D scanning a figurine at H.N.B. Garhwal University


3D printing and archaeology

I remember thinking when I first had a tour of UCL’s Institute of Making back when I started my PhD in 2013, and we saw the 3D printers – MakerBots mostly – that it would have fantastic applications for archaeology. Just few weeks later my PhD supervisor, Dr. Matt Pope, suggested that I arrange to have a bone CT scanned by the Natural History Museum in order to have it 3D printed. A fragment of a horse scapula from the 500,000 year old site of Boxgrove in the UK has been suggested to possibly show damage from contact with a spear point, which might indicate that the horse that the humans systematically butchered with handaxes was first hunted with a spear. This is such an interesting possibility, and as I’m researching the earliest spears, the artefact has great significance for my research. One problem is that bones – particularly 500,000 year old ones – are often in a bad state, and very fragile. The Natural History Museum kindly CT scanned the scapula fragment for me and we had it printed in plaster at UCL last summer. This has enabled me to study the lesion on the scapula, but also to take it with me to conferences and pass it around, meaning that many people were handling an object in Spain that normally they would need special permission and a trip to the UK for!

 

CT Scanning the Boxgrove Horse scapula fragment at the Natural History Museum

CT Scanning the Boxgrove Horse scapula fragment at the Natural History Museum

 

3D print in plaster of the Boxgrove horse scapula

3D print in plaster of the Boxgrove horse scapula

3D printing has so many possibilities in archaeology. UCL’s Petrie museum is just one of many museums undertaking 3D imaging and printing projects but there are lots of other possibilities too, including creating objects that other researchers, students and the public can handle, understand and discuss. Another example comes from Harvard where they’ve actually been able to reconstruct an object digitally using photomodeling, eventually reconstructing a sculpture that was smashed 3,000 years ago!

 

Today I’m working on designing an experiment using 3D printing, and I’ve just given the go-ahead to the printer. For my PhD, I’m looking at spears that don’t have stone points, but are simply a wooden spear carved into a point at the tip. I’ve seen many different sizes of spears in my research so far, so I have a very basic question: how much does the size of the tip of a wooden spear affect how well a spear will work when used on an animal? So I’ve designed a series of cones using 3D modeling software (I was surprised how easily I picked this up and how fun it is – try out SketchUp for free!).

3D cones that I've designed to print in nylon for spear impact experiments.

3D cones that I’ve designed to print in nylon for spear impact experiments.

These cones, each 100 millimetres long but with different diameters at the fat end, will be 3D printed over the weekend at UCL in nylon, a material that is robust, can be sanded down if necessary, and prints as small as 1 millimeter. Once I have my sample of cones printed I’m going to conduct a freefall drop impact test – which just means I repeatedly drop them down a 2 meter long tube into plasticine and see whether there are differences in how far they penetrate into the modeling clay. Will the thinner cones go into the clay more easily or not? Only the experiment, using 3D printing technology will help answer my question!

 

Adventures in Digital Archaeology & Open Access Antiquarianism

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

Ashley M. Richter in front of one of the UCSD Calit2 visualization walls and my layered realities conceptual graphic for digital archaeological technology development and use.

It’s funny how quickly time passes while studying time.

Two years ago, this weekend was spent with a laser scanner at the beach.

I’d finagled a mini-grant from the National Science Foundation for a project I like to call Sandcastles for Science, but whose full un-pronouncable name identified it as a project to test out laser scanning capabilities for handling the imaging resolutions of stratigraphic sediment on archaeological sites (see– even that was a mouthful).

As a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, the beach was the nearest easy access place to play in the dirt and provided a perfect venue to open up the experiment to local kids and un-suspecting beach-goers who accidentally volunteered themselves for mini-science bootcamp. Willing audiences who would build me data castles, while my research assistant and I exposed them to archaeology, beach physics, the history of castles, laser scanning, sea-shell collecting, and all the other educational topics we could cram into our construction schpeals and posterboards. I like archaeological education outreach, so sue me. It gets written into almost every one of my projects somehow.

Sandcastles for Science was ultimately prep-work for a two month field season in Jordan, laser scanning sites in Faynan (and yes, even scanning Petra for one glorious day), as well as for a lovely bit of software development on visualizing temporal sequences in point clouds with one of my fabulous computer science colleagues.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

The Leica Scanstation looming over its sandcastle victim at the beach.

Last year, this weekend was spent in a frenzy of data digging and labwork

My team needed to pull together presentations for Italian officials to approve the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology’s upcoming field season at Palazzo Vecchio and the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, and a bevy of lovely sites in southern Italy with a team from the University of Calabria.

So it was a weekend slogging through back-data of point clouds from the Hall of the 500 in Palazzo Vecchio, emphasizing the layered multi-spectral imaging into the model, and how it definitely showed the cracks conservators needed to track to create preservation solutions, and how it maybe had a hidden Da Vinci lurking behind one of its walls. It was a weekend of lists for the upcoming season, of site logistics, and Italian language lessons (team lessons with an instructor +  DuoLingo = a surprising amount of success once we hit Italy for the two month madcap field season that was my fall of 2013).

And if you’d like to check out more pics and details of my wonderful and ridiculous work for a once-promising academic something, scope out my scrapbook blog Adventures in Digital Archaeology.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The CISA3 diagnostics team at Palazzo Vecchio after successful conservation imaging.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

The Faro Focus and I about to image the exterior of the Baptistery. Note that I literally only seem capable of this one jaunty pose with a laser scanner. I desperately need to start doing something different in field propaganda photos.

But this year, this year was spent online- in a flurry of creative archaeological energy

This summer, I find myself graduated and out on my own, free to pursue my own projects, safely away from the boundary lines of academia and the rather unhealthy environment I had found myself in for a big chunk of this year.

Pulling ourselves back together, my favorite research colleague Vid and I cooked up a delightful dish that brings together all the digital archaeology flavors we’d been prepping before, but as part of a much grander and more colorful feast.

And so this weekend was spent running down the final lists of photographs, video media, and writing that needed to coalesce together into the FIRST archaeological technology driven Kickstarter.

Mushing together the laser scanning, point clouds, 3D models, and 3D printing,our project, Open Access Antiquarianism, proposes the construction of art exhibit built from re-purposed cultural heritage data using the digital visualization pipelines my colleague and I have been building to handle archaeological data.

A blend of 3D printed archaeological artifacts, furniture upholstered in fabric printed with archaeological LiDAR (literal armchair archaeology), interactive point cloud visualizations and other such extravagant re-workings of scientific data from open archives, the Cabinet of Curiosities Open Access Antiquarianism proposes offers an excellent opportunity to continue streamlining the point cloud and 3D modelling methodologies we’d been playing with for so long, while reaching a much much larger audience.

Because the larger global community needs to be engaged in the increasingly complicated discussions regarding ethical implementations of digitization and open access of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The public (and archaeologists themselves) need to understand the desperate desperate need for interdisciplinary and collaborative work and move away from the academic politics and needless power-plays that constantly bog such wonderful creative enterprises down. Archaeologists need to work more closely with technologists and engineers to develop useful and adaptable systems that preserve the past for the future (and often simultaneously end up building the surveying systems needed for the space-age future we all envision).

And the public needs to be aware of the wealth of data that is available to them in the increasingly larger and more wonderful online archives of museums and government institutions all over the world. The past has the potential to become increasingly and excitingly ubiquitous and something that plays a much stronger role in one’s everyday conception of time and space. It’s getting all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and the doctors of archaeology ought to be actively on the hunt for more and more Companions. Studying the past is no longer something that need be done by experts alone. In fact, we are drowning under such an avalanche of data, that it is imperative that more crowd-sourced archaeological ventures be launched to bear the brunt of analyzing everything that is already stacked up in the university basements of the world, let alone the incoming finds. Archaeologists can stay experts, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk to the public and engage them more actively in what we’re up to. Enthusiasm should count more than correct use of erudite jargon. Even to those hipster archaeologists out there.

In some small artistic way, the Open Access Antiquarianism project would like to address all of these things, while expanding the research and technological collaborative possibilities to continue refining the much needed digital pipeline that takes things from the field through processing, archiving, studying, and out to engagement.

My collaborative and interdisciplinary digital archaeology and outreach isn’t the traditional archaeology. But its my archaeology. And more than that, its an archaeological practice of hope. Hope that archaeology will fully embrace the increasingly digitized and interdisciplinary future. Hope that archaeology will not fall prey to over-specialization and tenure. Hope that archaeologists will continue to try to document and in some small way understand the past, so that we can help make vital statistically based decisions for the future. Archaeology has such potential to aid technology development and global ecological policy, if only us archaeologists would reach out and grasp it instead of assuming it will fall into our laps.

If you’re intrigued/dismayed/excited/furious/amused or any one of the wonderful and ridiculous emotions human beings are capable of, please check out Open Access Antiquarianism on kickstarter and on Facebook.  We’d love your support, and if you love our concepts about tech development, archaeology, and art as a research and outreach driver, perhaps your collaboration as well. Get in touch!

To the erudite young men and women a-sitting on a-tell: may your trowels be ever muddy and your point clouds free of shadows.

Acres and acres of happy wishes to all the archaeologists of the world,

Ashley M. Richter

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we've designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.

One of the Open Access Antiquarianism Medaillions we’ve designed as part of the Kickstarter reward campaign.